Laidoner, Johan

​12 February 1884 Viiratsi parish, Viljandi county –13 March 1953 Vladimir

Military man and statesman, commander of the Estonian army in the War of Independence 1918-1920, closest aid of Päts during the authoritarian regime in 1934-1940

Laidoner graduated in 1905 from the Vilnius Military School and in 1912 the Imperial Nicholas Military Academy in St Petersburg. Having participated in WW I, he achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Russian army. From December 1917 until February 1918 he was commander of the Estonian infantry regiment established within the Russian army. Until December he worked at the Estonian Embassy in Soviet Russia. As a talented and respected officer, he was appointed Commander of the Estonian army in December 1918 in the Estonian War of Independence. Laidoner was a successful and popular commander. After retiring with the rank of lieutenant general in March 1920, Laidoner went into business and politics and was an active social figure. From 1920 to 1929 he was a member of Riigikogu. On numerous occasions he was part of the Estonian delegation at the congresses of the League of Nations; in 1925 he was Commissioner of the League in solving the Turkish-Iraq border conflict. In connection with the attempted communist coup d’état supported by the Soviet Union in December 1924, Laidoner again briefly became the commander in chief of the Estonian armed forces. In 1933-1934 he again entered politics, running for the position of State Elder. However, before the elections he decided, together with State Elder Konstantin Päts, to organise a coup d’état. On 12 March 1934 Päts once again appointed Laidoner Commander in Chief; he stayed in this position until 22 June 1940, when he was removed from office on the demand of the Soviet authorities who had occupied Estonia. In autumn 1939 the Soviet Union forced Estonia to allow Soviet military bases in the country or face military action. Laidoner wished to avoid war, thinking that without a strong ally Estonia would be destroyed. In July 1940 he and his wife were deported to Pensa in Russia; in 1941 he was arrested and spent the rest of his life in prison. Laidoner was the only officer who gained the rank of general during the first Republic of Estonia (1939).

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